Former ATF Agent Jay Dobyns Wins His Case Against the Government and more...

Former ATF Agent Jay Dobyns Wins His Case Against the Government


Back in March, I wrote a blog about ATF agents who were suing the government, which began:

ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — on their official website, they still go by the abbreviation ATF) special agent Jay Dobyns worked undercover in the Hell’s Angels gang.  After finishing this undercover job, he and his family received death threats, among other horrific threats, and eventually his Arizona home was burned to the ground while Dobyns was out of town. Fortunately, his wife and children, who were sleeping inside the home, survived.  (To read the full blog article, click here)

This week, former ATF special agent Jay Dobyns won his case against the government.

U.S. Government Ordered to Pay Dobyns $173,000

Judge Francis Allegra ordered the government to pay Dobyns $173,000, and threw out the government’s claim against Dobyns for writing about being the first federal agent to infiltrate the inner circle of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in his New York Times best selling book, No Angel, My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells AngelsThe judge also threw out the government’s claim against Dobyns for producing a movie about his ATF experiences.

If the movie takes off the way his book did, Dobyns could become a Hollywood star.  But to many of his ATF peers, he already was one. While active as a special agent, Dobyns earned the ATF Distinguished Service Medal and the prestigious Top Cops award. In an article written by fellow ATF agent Vincent A. Cefalu in, Dobyns remained loyal to the agency and its personnel despite the hardships Dobyns and his family endured after he became a whistleblower:

Throughout these years, Agent Dobyns continued to do what “The Bird” does. He continued to offer his expertise in undercover operations to his fellow Agents as well as outside State and Local Agency’s. Dobyns was a coveted speaker and trainer in all walks of law enforcement and even military training environments. With very public disputes with ATF swirling, Dobyns continued his infectious praises for the Agency and its personnel he loved.

(Link to full article: “ATF Agent Says Goodbye to Legendary Fellow Agent Jay Dobyns”)

Judge Found Two ATF Officials Not Credible

In his ruling, Judge Allegre found the testimonies of two of Dobyns’ superiors in the ATF Arizona office to be “not credible.” More than that, the judge said one of the supervisors, George Gillette, “lied” about the arson that burned down Dobyns home (while his wife and children were inside — fortunately, they escaped).  Gillette is no longer an active agent, in fact he’s under investigation for illegally selling a gun that turned up in a Mexico crime scene where a Mexican beauty queen was killed.

If all of this wasn’t documented in court records and the press, it would sound like a fiction story, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly what Judge Allegre thought as well when he described some of the courtroom testimony he heard as being “a remarkable tapestry of fiction.”

In Jay Dobyns’ Own Words

Jay Dobyns has posted his reactions and thoughts at his site Also posted there are pictures of his legal team, his home after the arson, and images of his family, fallen border agent Brian Terry and this saying:

The truth is like a lion.

You don’t have to defend it.

Turn it loose, and it will defend itself.



Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430








Jay Dobyns:

Special Agent Dobyns is the recipient of the prestigious Top Cop award, multiple decorations for valor, and is regarded as one of the Agency’s most notable undercover operatives.



“ATF Special Agents Sue the Government

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Lawyers and Private Investigators: A Symbiotic Relationship

The close, symbiotic relationship between investigators and lawyers can be challenging because PIs and attorneys often have different work styles, training and professional objectives.

Approaches, Backgrounds and Goals

One difference in PIs’ and lawyers’ work styles is that many investigators work alone.  Although some attorneys also work alone, many work in cooperation with other lawyers and legal staff members.

PIs and lawyers have also experienced different types of training. Some private investigators may have very little training, such as those who work in unlicensed states, of which there are five in the U.S., including my own state of Colorado (not to say that all unlicensed PIs lack training and skills — I’ve known many investigators in my state who are ethical, professional and immensely skilled).  In contrast, some investigators have extensive backgrounds in accounting, law enforcement, computer science, even psychology. Attorneys, on the other hand, earn doctorate degrees and must pass a grueling bar exam that covers every aspect of the law.

Additionally, PIs and attorneys have different professional objectives. A PI has a vested financial interest in completing work tasks and issuing his/her invoice. Lawyers are on a different time clock, where the best resolution for the client may take months, sometimes years.

How a PI Can Nurture the Attorney-Client Relationship

I’ve worked within the criminal justice system for 30 years, the majority of that time as a criminal defense lawyer. For a decade I also co-owned a legal investigations agency, during which my wife (my business partner) and myself wrote the blog Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, which has been recognized by Ellery Queen magazine as one of the top three true-crime blogs, and has been twice noted by the American Library Association’s Booklist Online as its “Web Crush of the Week” during its annual mystery month. Guns, Gams and Gumshoes is still going strong, by the way — to check it out, click here.

In one of our blog posts on Guns, Gams and Gumshoes, we wrote how a PI can build a constructive, successful relationship with a lawyer, based on our firsthand experiences. Below are those tips:

Tip #1: PIs should be prepared, timely and succinct. Attorneys are busy people who are juggling dozens, sometimes hundreds of clients. When a PI schedules a meeting with an attorney, he/she should bring an agenda, reports and important evidence. Be on time — punctuality is a courtesy to anyone, be it an attorney-client or your other investigation clients. Don’t ramble on at meetings — be succinct and to the point. Both of you are professionals who are handling important client matters.

Tip #2Focus your investigative products. Lawyers don’t pay investigators for their opinions and speculations about what judges and juries will do — lawyers pay for facts and evidence. Make sure your investigative reports, both oral and written, scrupulously adhere to agreed-upon investigative strategies and goals defined by you and your attorney-client. For example, if an attorney requests for you to learn the color of a specific vehicle that a witness saw, focus on obtaining that evidence — don’t gather extraneous data such as the neighborhood where the observation occurred or the color of other vehicles in the area!

Tip #3: Be knowledgeable about the legal basics of what you’re investigating. When a PI works for a lawyer, the investigator should have an understanding of the legal basics in that attorney’s area of the law. For example, if a PI works for a family law attorney, the PI should understand such family law doctrines as child custody guidelines and no-fault/fault divorces (depending on the state the PI and lawyer practice in). If a PI conducts criminal defense investigations, he/she should understand the principles of criminal culpability. There are numerous ways for a PI to understand legal fundamentals, from taking a course at a community college to obtaining certification through the National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI).


Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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Prejudices About Trial Lawyers

(Book Excerpt: A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms)

Many legal thrillers focus on the dynamics of trial lawyers battling it out before and during a courtroom trial. Therefore, we thought it would be interesting to briefly talk about some popular prejudices against trial attorneys. If you’re writing a trial lawyer character, perhaps he or she confronts one of these prejudices from clients, jurors, even social acquaintances.

What Is a Trial Lawyer?

Some lawyers are known to be “trial attorneys,” meaning they are skilled at conducting courtroom litigation in their areas of specialization. For example, Shaun, the co-author of this book, is a trial attorney who specializes in criminal defense, business litigation and personal injury. Writing a story featuring a trial lawyer sets up some rich possibilities for dramatic courtroom scenes.

Outside the courtroom, however, trial lawyers have many other responsibilities that aren’t always as glamorous as books and film often portray. A trial lawyer often spends days reviewing files, interviewing witnesses, discussing cases with his/her clients, filing documents with the court. Each of these processes can take weeks or months as trial attorneys prepare for trial — later in this book, we go into more detail about what takes place throughout the pretrial phase and trial itself.

Now let’s look at some urban legends about trial lawyers.

They Don’t Have Souls

Below is a telling quote from the acclaimed attorney Gerry Spence, who has tried and won many nationally known cases, about one dark prejudice:

“Today the trial lawyer could be as pure and honest as Jesus in a pin-striped suit — and still the jurors will see him through jaundiced spectacles. Or the woman, as trial lawyer, could be Mother Teresa in a conservative business dress — dark worsted wool, a small string of no-nonsense pearls at her throat, a tiny gold cross pinned at her lapel, her face that of a saint — and still the jurors would undress her to her soul to see if, indeed, she has one. Suspicion. Worse. A thin fog of hate surrounds all lawyers for the people, these warriors for the people’s justice.” -Gerry Spence, American trial lawyer who has never lost a criminal case

So how does your fictional attorney deal with this? Does she take on a false bravado to compensate? Does he ignore it, or enter most situations (whether personal or professional) with an irritating bluster? Or, like Gerry Spence, perhaps it encourages him to reach out, be human and correct the misconception when opportunities arise. Of course, the last thing you want is a saint for a trial attorney, so such a Gerry Spence-like character would need an admirable flaw or two in his shining-knight characterization.

They’re Aggressive

Another popular misconception is that all trial attorneys are “aggressive.” Here’s a definition of the word aggressive: Inclined to behave in an actively hostile fashion.

It’s a loaded word, one many attorneys love to use in their  ads, as though an attorney behaving like a pit bull on crack equates to sure wins for a client.

Check out ads yourself to see how attorneys love this word. For example, we recently looked on the back of a fat telephone book (they still exist, you know) — and surprise! There’s a full-page ad where the attorney promises “Aggressive Representation.” We flipped to the yellow pages under Attorneys and saw these words in multiple ads: “Affordable and Aggressive.” We also saw several ads of a lawyer smiling next to the words “TOUGH and AGGRESSIVE Lawyer” (capitalized just as it is in the ad).

Aggression in the Courtroom

With the popularity of the word aggressive in lawyers’ ads, does that mean an attorney must be aggressive to be a winner in the courtroom? According to a local respected trial defense attorney, the answer is no. Below is his take on the term:

“In most cases, it simply is better not to be overly aggressive either in pre-trial matters, or at trial. Much of criminal law practice before trial consists of careful investigation and skillful negotiation. This is no place for an attorney to behave aggressively or unreasonably, at least not if they know what they are doing! Even at trial, most experienced trial lawyers know that being aggressive and unfriendly is likely to turn off the jury and everyone else.

While there certainly are situations that call for an aggressive cross-examination of an accuser or other witness, an experienced trial attorney knows that under most circumstances it is better to appear to the jury as a professional and reasonable defense attorney because that makes it much more likely that they will adopt the defense’s version of events and acquit their client. Usually if the jury doesn’t like the attorney, it’s bad news for the client. In fact most prosecutors want obnoxious, aggressive defense attorneys because they know the jury will not like them or their client. It’s a tough lesson to learn for the first time after your trial is over.”

~ End of Excerpt ~

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins. Available exclusively on Amazon.

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Twitter Hashtags for Lawyers 101


Twitter As Search Engine

When I first became a Twitter user several years ago, I had no idea what a hashtag was. When my wife, who’s been using Twitter for five years, asked what hashtags I was using to help spread the word about my law practice, I laughed. Hashtags? Sounded like something between a short-order cook and a childhood game.

But when she said that Twitter had evolved into a powerful real-time search engine with millions of search queries each day (that number has increased to over two billion daily), and that hashtags were a means of conducting these searches, like for finding a lawyer who specialized in DUIs in our city, I decided hashtags were noble social media creatures.

Hashtag Format

A hashtag is the # character followed by a word or term; for example, #Colorado marks a tweet as relevant to the state Colorado. Hashtags can also be combined words; for example, #ColoradoCrime would refer to a crime (or subject relevant to crime) in the state. Sometimes people use several hashtags, such as #Colorado #Lawyer.

A few guidelines:

  • Twitter doesn’t allow punctuation in hashtags. 
  • The more specific the topic, the better.
  • Don’t overuse them in a single tweet (some people say use no more than three — too many are distracting and/or annoying)

Finding or Tagging Topics

People conduct over 2 billion searches on Twitter each day

Hashtags are useful for both finding topics as well as tagging a topic in your tweet so others can more easily find it. By the way, I just did a search on Twitter for #ColoradoCrime and it’s not a popular tweet — the most recent tweet tagged with #ColoradoCrime was nine months old.  So if you were interested in finding topics related to current crimes in Colorado, that wouldn’t be a useful hashtag. However, when I ran a search on #Colorado #Crime, dozens of tweets related to crimes in Colorado displayed, with the most recent dated a few days ago.

Within Twitter, you can search for a hashtag in the search field at the top of the Twitter screen, or by clicking a hashtag within a tweet. You can also run a search on a hashtag from your browser — results from both Twitter and Facebook will display (Facebook also uses hashtags).

Now let’s look at some useful hashtags for lawyers.

Common Legal Hashtags

Here are a few hashtags that relate to the legal world in general, from lawyers to courts: #legal #lawyer #law #lawsuit

For example, if you’re interested in attracting a broad readership for a tweet (such as for a blog post on a general legal topic), add the hashtag #legal or #law. When I post a new blog article, I’ll often add the hashtags #legal #blog

Legal Hashtags by Practice

Here’s a sampling of hashtags for different law specializations: #DUI, #personalinjury, #divorce, #familylaw, #patent, #bankruptcy, #criminaldefense

For example, a defense lawyer in Houston might add the hashtags #criminaldefense #Houston to a tweet that markets his/her practice.

Good Idea Not To…

Use legal jargon in hashtags (or anywhere within the tweet, actually). Jargon is great for legal eagles like lawyers, judges and paralegals, but jargon can easily alienate others, like potential clients.

Self-promote too often. I’ve heard that one self-promotion tweet per ten tweets is a good guideline.

Additional Twitter Articles for Lawyers

Lawyers guide to Twitter language and acronyms (Real Lawyers Have Blogs)

Hashtags in Law Firm Social Media Marketing Benefit Attorneys (

Blawg 100 Amici: ABA Journal’s nominations for best legal blogs

If you enjoy my posts, please consider nominating my blog (, or one of the legal blogs listed on the right side of the screen under Blogroll, to the ABA Journal’s nominations for 100 best legal blogs – Submissions are open through August 8: Click here to submit 


Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430


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Tips for Being a Happy Lawyer. Seriously.

I like to think  that for the most part I’m a pretty easy-going guy with a sense of humor, but even I have to admit that this profession, especially for those of us practicing criminal defense, can at times be filled with difficult issues and heart-wrenching life stories.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks for getting my attitude back on the positive track. Not saying I’ve learned the Zen secret of eternal lawyer-happiness, but for what it’s worth, here’s my three cents on the topic.

Five Tips for Being a Happier Lawyer

Tip #1: Get some perspective. A client drops you, a judge snaps at you, you didn’t make partner, you lost a case you poured your heart into…guess what? It happens to every lawyer…well, maybe not Gerry Spence, who’s never lost a criminal case…but it happens to everyone else. So step back and look at the big picture. It’s not just about you, really.

Tip #2: Appreciate the good things in your life. Sometimes a lawyer’s world gets jam-packed with problems and issues and difficult personalities and…you get the picture. Especially at those times, take a moment and remember what’s good in your life. Maybe it’s something your child said to you recently that made you feel ten feet tall, or the special dinner your wife surprised you with, or your dog’s latest crazy antic. I read somewhere that people who express thankfulness feel happier in general.

Tip #3: Stay positive. Not always easy, but sometimes just making yourself think positively can get your attitude back on track. Being positive, or at least detaching yourself from negativity and being more objective, can help you be a better decision maker.

Tip #4: Lighten up. Sometimes all it takes is listening to soothing music, or maybe listening to an old George Carlin record, or watching Bill Murray in Caddyshack, or reading some irreverent lawyer blogs like Bitter Lawyer or Lowering the Bar. I mean, how can you not laugh at articles like “Are Tattoos Replacing Lawyer Business Cards?” or “Legal Dare #1: Use Wingdings in a Letter” (both from Bitter Lawyer).

Tip #5: Shake your money-maker. Or more simply put: Exercise. I stole this one from attorney Erin Curren’s article “Finding Bliss at the Bar: How to Be a Happy Lawyer” which has far more tips and information than I have here, like how not to let depressing statistics about the legal professional get to you (my suggestion is to not read them in the first place), common traits of happy lawyers and more.

Blawg 100 Amici: ABA Journal’s nominations for best legal blogs

If you enjoy my posts, please consider nominating my blog (, or Bitter Lawyer or Lowering the Bar (two of my favorites that I listed in the above article), to the ABA Journal’s nominations for 100 best legal blogs – Submissions are open through August 8: Click here to submit 


Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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